Category Archives: vegetables

9/100: Columbus County Beet & Goat Cheese Pizza

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There are many things to love about a Farmer’s Market– an excuse to wake up early on a Saturday and indulge in a freshly made breakfast, the opportunity to eat locally and seasonally, the chance to taste fruits and vegetables that are as fresh as they can be. For me the best part might be talking with the farmers, getting to hear how things are grown, joking with them about the best ways to prepare certain foods, gaining insight into the food philosophy of the people growing my fruits and vegetables. It’s an empowering experience, something that brings you much closer to your food than standing in a grocery store aisle.

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Recently I met my friend Heather at the Columbus County Community Farmer’s Market, a permanent open-air market in Columbus County, NC. Columbus County is a rural county located in Southeastern North Carolina, about an hour’s drive from Wilmington. In the two years that we’ve been here I’ve traveled to Columbus County a few times to visit Lake Waccamaw, a beautiful fresh water lake surrounded by campgrounds and a small community. When I started researching the area for this series, I stumbled across the farmer’s market, which was established in 1998 and has been funded by the Rural Advancement Foundation International and the North Carolina Tobacco Trustfund Commission. The farmer’s market is housed in a permanent open air structure and boasts space for up to 20 local vendors.

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Strolling through the market on a late Spring Saturday reminded me of all those midwinter days when I found my thoughts drifting to warm summer mornings, fresh fruits, crisp vegetables, air thick with humidity. The drive combined with my total inability to wake up early (ever) meant I arrived at the market midmorning after the early riser rush. I may have missed out on some of the vegetables but the trade off was well worth it- the farmers were free to chat. One of the things I was surprised by was how many of the farmers we met were excitedly offering organic heirloom vegetables. At almost every stand we had a conversation with the farmers about the sometimes underappreciated beauty of mis-shapen heirloom vegetables, why it’s best to avoid using Sure-Jell in your jams, and how a solution of vinegar and soap can keep the pests away. One farmer that we spoke with for a while who was the essence of charm, was John of Higher Ground Organic Gardens. He had a beautiful crop of potatoes, beets, carrots, kolrabi, beans, squash, and (much to Heather’s delight) rhubarb. John was sweet and kind, answering our questions and telling us about how things are growing this year. I walked away from the market with fingerling beets, beet greens, green beans, and patty pan squash.

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Heather came down from Raleigh for the weekend to talk blogging and work on her practicum project. She is a finishing up her graduate work at Meredith and has decided to work with me for her practicum project, helping me research three counties for the Tasting North Carolina series- Wake, Forsyth, and Lenoir. I thought visiting an additional county on my list, Columbus, would be a good way to kick off the weekend, so after meeting at the farmer’s market we headed down to Lake Waccamaw for lunch at Dale’s Seafood. When I was researching things to visit and see in Columbus Co. I found an article from Our State that does a much better job of explaining the history of the lake than I ever could, particularly the theories concerning how it was formed and the life teeming in the water. Dale’s sits on the shores of the lake, overlooking its 9,000 acres. We sat and took in good old fashioned Southern meat and three fare- I had a deviled crab, fried okra, and hush puppies and Heather enjoyed the steamed shrimp platter- and watched the lake, which is serene and breathtaking in its expanse.

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Columbus County is surrounded by Bladen, Pender, and Robeson counties to the North and Horry and Brunswick counties to the South. Its county seat, Whiteville, is where you’ll find the Columbus County Community Farmer’s Market, as well as the community that it serves. The next time you’re driving down to the beach stop by for some fresh vegetables, good company, and a glimpse of one of the Carolina Bays.

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Beet and Goat Cheese Pizza 

Dough: 
1 tbsp dry active yeast
2 ½ cups bread flour
1 ½ tbsp olive oil
¾ cup warm water
½ tbsp fresh rosemary
1 tbsp kosher salt

topping:

6 fingerling beets, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup goat cheese
2 spicy pork sausages, cooked and sliced
Olive oil
Sea salt
Handful of beet greens or kale

Whisk together olive oil, yeast, salt, basil, and water. Whisk until fully incorporated, at least 2 minutes. Add half of the flour and stir with a wooden spoon. Add remaining flour and knead for ten minutes, until the dough feels like a stress ball.

Coat a glass bowl with olive oil. Place the dough ball in the bowl, turn once, and cover with a damp towel. Let rise for at least an hour. Punch down and let rise another 15 minutes.

Roll out your dough and heat your oven to 500 (or as high as it goes).  Spread goat cheese evenly across the dough (as best you can), then follow with beets and sausage. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Top with fresh greens and serve hot.

Vinegar Salad

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One of my dad’s classic summer side dishes is tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions that have been marinated in vinegar and salt for a few hours. Served cold, it’s a tart and fresh salad that pairs wonderfully with all manner of easy summer dinners, particularly those whipped up on the grill and enjoyed on the porch.

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As part of my Farm to Fork dinner at Greenlands Farm I mixed together a variation of the salad with green and purple beans, dragon’s egg cucumbers, onions, and garlic all from the farm. Served in lemon squash boats with a dollop of herbed goat’s cheese over a bed of kale salad, it hit the spot.

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Vinegar Salad

2 cucumbers

2 dozen green and purple wax beans

1 small green onion

1 small red onion

2 cloves garlic

4 cups apple cider vinegar

1 tsp sea salt

Mince garlic and chop cucumbers, beans, and onions into bite sized pieces.  Toss in vinegar and salt, cover, and refrigerate at least two hours (though overnight is better). Serve chilled alongside the best of what your grill has to offer.

Goat’s Milk & Pimento Cheese Squash Blossoms

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Dan and I talk often about how lucky we are to have surrounded ourselves with so many incredible, inspiring, and caring friends in Wilmington. In the two years since we made the move back South we’ve become part of a supportive and encouraging community that continues to grow. Our friends introduce us to their friends who introduce us to their friends and on and on to the point where I’m convinced that Wilmington is a city of 100,000 amazing people doing inspiring things.

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A few months ago I was talking to one of our Wilmington friends and he mentioned that one of his friends was starting a new event series at their farm, Greenlands. Greenlands is a farm located in Bolivia, NC, that grows organic heirloom fruits and vegetables, raises chickens for eggs, goats for milk, llamas for… llamaing, has a petting zoo, a summer camp, a country farm store, and much more. It’s a farmstravaganza!

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Greenlands is a true family operation, founded by Heather and Henry Burket and operated alongside their daughter, Maud. Their dinner series, Farm to Fork, allows people to come and see the farm, learn about them and the operation, and taste what Greenlands and the surrounding area have to offer. A mission I support completely. When our friend connected Heather and I it felt like a great match, so I agreed to come on board for their very first dinner in late June.

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A week before the event Heather sent me a list of everything that was going to be available from the farm and we started to scheme up a menu. We decided on a five course meal that started with something I’ve never tried before- fried squash blossoms. Because when you’re cooking a plated dinner for 15 it’s absolutely the time to edge out of your comfort zone.

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photo (left) by luke; my cousin elizabeth let me know that the blossoms were a hit!

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photo by luke

As the guests were arriving I stuffed a few dozen beautiful fresh squash blossoms with pimento cheese, dipped them in a goat’s milk and red pepper batter, and lightly fried them. I was nervous, but any anxiety I had about them turning out well vanished when I took a bite out of the first blossom. They were light and crispy and the tangy goat’s milk was the perfect balance to the rich pimento cheese and the delicate blossom.

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This dinner also happened to take place when a lot of my family was in town for a beach vacation, so I was able invite my cousin Elizabeth and her husband Luke to join us. Luke was even kind enough to snap some pictures of the tour they went on of Greenlands, which is something I wish I’d been able to see for myself! The reports from the diners (and my insider info from Luke and Elizabeth) were all incredibly positive, which was thrilling. I am not a chef by any stretch of the imagination and I have no experience cooking for people outside of dinner parties at my home, so this was a big leap. I am so thankful that Greenlands took a chance on me (thanks, guys!), and I’m relieved that everything went as seamlessly as it did!blossoms 6

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I’d also like to take a moment and give Dan kudos- he took a half day from work so that he could come to Bolivia with me and be my sous chef. He brought his A game and completely kicked ass- making the melon soup, sous vide-ing the steaks, and taking care of every thing that needed to be taken care of with no complaints. When we met 9 years ago I’m sure he had no idea that one day he’d be frantically charring and stuffing peppers on a farm in rural North Carolina, but he’s a natural. A gem, that one.

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Goat’s Milk & Pimento Cheese Squash Blossoms

24 squash blossoms

2-3 cups of pimento cheese

2 cups all purpose flour

3-4 cups goats milk (add as needed)

2 tsp sea salt

2 tsp red pepper flakes

Peanut or sunflower oil for frying

Mix together your pimento cheese (recipe & instructions here). Stuff each blossom with 1 tablespoon of cheese and crimp the flower petals around the cheese to secure.

Heat oil to 375F.

Mix the goats milk slowly into the flour until the consistency is approximatley the same as pancake batter- thin enough to pour easily but not soupy. Dip each blossom into the batter so that the bloom is coated almost to the stem. Fry for 2-3 minutes on each side or until crispy and golden brown. Allow to drip and firm up and then serve hot.